Once Upon a Time 3.15: “Quiet Minds”

Neal’s indelible connections to all of these other characters are what make his death so devastating, and I can’t imagine a true fan of the show–even one who wasn’t a huge fan of the character–not at least mourning him for the sake of the other people suffering as a result of it. In other words, you may not love Neal, but if you at least love Emma, Rumple, etc., it would seem particularly heartless to take any pleasure in his passing. I’d actually always figured that Emma and he were the writers’ planned romantic endgame, and had furthermore considered him safe due to his status as Rumple’s son. I wanted all of these people to eventually attain happiness. And yet the fact that, by all rights, he should have been safe due to these considerations is what also makes it such a bold move worthy of writers who continue to realize that fairy tales are not light and fluffy bedtime stories. Fairy tales are hardcore, and not everyone emerges with the sort of happy ending that they had initially expected for themselves. (Raymond-James confirmed it was a storytelling decision on the writers’ parts; he didn’t request to leave, nor was he fired.)

From a structural standpoint, the death also comes just as out-of-left-field for us as it does for the characters. For one, I cannot express how glad I am that ABC’s marketing for the episode didn’t rely on any crass “Someone Is Going to Die on Tonight’s Episode!!” tactics. Instead, the episode was allowed to not call any attention to that impending twist, making it all the more surprising and powerful when it happened. Furthermore–and more importantly–the show did a phenomenal job of setting it up in such a way that it is something we would likely never have expected, because it’s so narratively unusual to keep a character off-screen (at least in Storybrooke) for three episodes in a row, with no characters having any idea where he is, only to kill him so suddenly when he shows up again.

In addition to that, this very episode’s flashback to a year ago in the Enchanted Forest,  which has Neal and Belle attempting to resurrect Rumple (along with some dialogue from Neal’s appearance in “New York City Serenade”) seemed to be directly pointing us to the possibility that the new Dark Curse was enacted by Neal in order to reunite with Emma and Henry. Instead, Neal makes his fatal decision–despite Belle’s warnings as to the grief his father caused by performing a dangerous magical act without considering the fate that could befall others–and the immediate result is the return of his dad and his own death. This is subverted at the time by Rumple magically merging his son with himself, keeping him alive for the time being, an act which immediately causes the shattering of Rumple’s mind, as it’s now housing two consciousnesses, revealing that to be the reason he lost his sanity and not the witch taking his brain (the latter of which I had incorrectly guessed last week due to her taking Charming’s courage). Instead, now that his mind is restored thanks to Emma, Zelena gleefully remarks that she finally has the Dark One’s brain, given that he’s under her control. Also, of course, that’s where Neal has been all this time. The reason that Zelena finds herself incapable of using the dagger against Rumple after “he” escapes is that he had completely receded into Neal at the time. Which is also how he was able to escape in the first place, since the safeguards she had in place could only keep the Dark One constrained. The writers beautifully and expertly red-herringed us.

It’s also important to note that the episode plays completely fairly with the rules of the Once universe, as well as the rules it establishes in this episode. Firstly, it makes sense that it would be possible to reverse Rumple’s death, given, again, that he is a supernatural creature and seemed to mystically disappear the last we saw of him. It also parallels the black candle from last season that can restore someone’s life by taking the life of another. It’s all about balance, and the price of magic. And even though Rumple was able to create a temporary patch to stop his son’s death, there is no viable way to keep him permanently alive. The debt must be paid. And it’s even more hugely important that after all this time, Neal–who had spent many years as a thief and a con artist–finally goes out a hero. He sacrifices his own life by asking Emma to separate his father and him, and he does so in order to help his son, her, and all of the other exiled members of the Enchanted Forest so that Rumple can reveal the Wicked Witch’s identity, as well as to free his “Papa” from his madness. It’s a gorgeous, selfless action worthy of the innocent boy that Neal once was.

Author: Robert Berg

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